Growers back call for Govt help

Cromwell grower Simon Webb says it is too early to say whether they will have the labour numbers...
Cromwell grower Simon Webb says it is too early to say whether they will have the labour numbers for the coming apple season. Photo: Adam Burns
Central Otago fruit growers are supporting industry calls for the Government to help with labour shortages.

New Zealand Apples and Pears has called on the Government to allow overseas visitors to pick fruit without a work visa, when required.

The group has suggested this could occur if a seasonal labour shortage was declared.

Springvale Orchard and Central Organics co-owner Chris Denniston, of Alexandra, is  looking for workers and said the move would aid orchardists greatly.

"It’s a scary unknown," Mr Denniston said."It’s hard to commit at this stage and it really depends on how many [staff] stick around after cherry season."

Teviot Valley fruitgrower and Darlings Fruit Company director Stephen Darling, of Ettrick, said his orchard was "just managing".

Mr Darling said the expansion and development of the fruit industry meant there was a critical shortage of staff across the board.

"We need investment in people."

The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, which enables the horticulture and viticulture industries to recruit workers from overseas for seasonal work, has been significant for growers.

Due to industry demands, Immigration New Zealand has steadily increased the cap on RSE places each year since the scheme was introduced in 2007.

It is now set at 12,850 employees after originally being set at 5000.Mr Darling said the scheme was "critical" for ongoing success in the industry.

Simon Webb, of Webb’s Fruit in Cromwell, said the labour shortage declaration concept that had previously been used in the stone fruit industry eased significant pressure.

"It’s been quite beneficial in the past."

However, next door at Jackson’s Orchards, grower Mark Jackson, who experienced an early cherry bloom last year, said there was no  problem  finding staff at present.

"There is certainly no shortage of labour around at the moment. They’re still coming off the street.

"It was an issue last year because of the weather."

Seasonal Solutions chief executive Helen Axby said the Government needed to respond to labour shortages.

"The unemployment rate in Central Otago is one of the lowest in the country. We don’t have people queuing up for seasonal work."

Comments

Simple solution. No/reduced benefits for 100-150k WINZ beneficiaries with temporary relocation allowances. Why rely on overseas workers when there are more than enough here in NZ? Attitude and motivation is what is required, but that is lacking when we have near 'free stuff- housing benefits and allowances for learning or sitting around'. I see them every day hanging out.

Attitude is part of the problem why their are locals are not willing. Ten years ago people were knocking on orchardists, every door. The industry got very complacent in looking after staff and keeping to laws etc. Reaping what has been sowed long time ago.

@OtagoIdeas - I'm sorry, but have you ever actually worked in this industry? Of the several growers I've had experience with, a majority of the most reliable and hard working employees were immigrants. Most of the local staff would come on board and 2 to 4 weeks later stop showing up. The ones that stuck it out long term, acted like they had nothing to prove and they were doing the employer a favor working there; but they were often some of the least productive in the bunch.

This has a lot more to it than just cutting benefits. There is a underlying work ethic that is lacking.